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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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Jesus

God Bless Us, Everyone!

I’ve started a new book recently – Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky at The Trauma Stewardship Institute.  She talks about “trauma exposure response” as the entire sum of feelings, thoughts, actions, and worldview that caregivers (and others) develop as they view and interact with trauma over time.  It promises to be an interesting read – I’ll let you know.

But for now – and since it’s the day before Christmas Eve as I write this – it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can see the Christmas story is as God’s own “trauma exposure response’:  His response of pure love to the deep trauma of sin in our world, the trauma that bent and broke everything in His precious creation.  If He were human, how do you think He might feel upon being faced with such a catastrophic event?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel as time and time again He might reach out in love to a people He had chosen as His own (as in the Old Testament), only to find them slap Him away as if they didn’t need Him?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel at such repeated abuse and neglect and hatred, even now, when He is only trying to make things better?

But God’s “trauma exposure response” begins with the truth that God is not human – God is God, and while that may sound trite, it means that God remains true to Himself.  Unlike human caregivers who become enmeshed in the lives and deaths and toils and tribulations of the people we care for, who suffer from too much empathy or lack of boundaries or codependency or hurt feelings (or you name it!), God remains God, and none of these things that affect us, affect Him.

AND YET He sent His Son to become one of us – to take on human flesh – to suffer exactly all those kinds of toils and tribulations, to learn empathy and boundaries and hurt feelings and trauma exposure and everything else that goes on in our messy, sinful, often awful world.  He sent His Son for a lot of reasons – to redeem us from sin, to break the chains of death and the grave.

And just maybe one more of those reasons might be this: since you and I sometimes (frequently?) become overwhelmed with the deep and unrelenting traumas in life, the presence of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, in the fields of Galilee, among the sick in Judea and the synagogues of Israel also means that somewhere, in your office or your clinic or your ambulance or your support group or church or hospital rounds that same Jesus, who is also God, is standing next to you.  He knows you and what your job is like.  He knows the pressures you face, and the challenges that rise up.  He knows that you go home exhausted at night sometimes, only to come back for more the next day.  He knows – and because He is not only human but God, then God knows, and loves you as much as the ones you are caring for.

So dear caregivers, trauma responders, whatever you call yourselves, take heart!  The Lord is with you!  And here’s a Christmas verse for you before we break (really?) for the new year –

“UNTO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”  (Luke 2:11)

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At the Formational Prayer Essentials Seminar Part 2

If we resemble Jesus enough to allow the woman of ill repute to break the bottle of perfume at His feet (Luke 7:36-50), soon others like her will be lined up around the block, each bearing their own bottle of perfume to break as they cry their hearts out for gratitude at the mercy of Jesus we are showing them.

If we are instead like the Pharisees who are around Jesus trying to prevent the woman from approaching Him and breaking the bottle, others who may have brought their own bottles to break will learn that they will be shamed if they do so.  They will keep those bottles hidden and, perhaps, stop coming altogether.

If we receive the broken and the breakers, the wounded and the wounders into the church with the mercy of Jesus, soon word will get out and others will come bearing their own sins and wounds and brokenness, knowing that here is a place where they can receive healing and forgiveness.

If we insist on public shaming of the broken and the breakers, public condemnation of church leaders who “fall” or “fail,” soon word will get out and others who have their own sins and wounds and brokenness will learn to keep their sins and wounds and brokenness to themselves.  The church will not be a safe place for them to be, and eventually, perhaps, they will stop coming altogether.

A Father’s Love

After Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration,

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”  Mark 9:14-17

I know – the same argument as today, probably.  Did the boy really  have a demon, or did he have epilepsy?  First of all, come on!  Julius Caesar had epilepsy, or something like it, and the Romans all knew it was a disease and not a demon almost a century before this account.  So, let’s take Mark’s word for it that it was a demon (and the Holy Spirit as a corroborating witness, remember).

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s focus on that father.  That poor guy and his son!  Who know how old the son was at this point, but he had had the demon since he was little.  The family had probably gone out of their minds trying to find ways to help him.  If they had lived in our day, they would have gone to one specialist after another, both medical and psychological.  They would have tried a variety of drugs, treatments, and behavioral therapies, all to no avail.  I suspect that this family had been drained of their resources over the years, financially, emotionally, spiritually – and that the boy himself had (as said of another patient of Jesus) “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.”

Now maybe this father comes to Jesus and the disciples in desperation.  This will be their last chance.  He’s run out of options, and has nowhere else to turn.  Trembling with fear and his last ounce of hope, he comes to where he’s heard Jesus is – only to find that He’s out of the office for the day!  He’s up on the mountain with some of the disciples!  The best he can do for his son is hope that the disciples can do something for him – but they can’t.

Can you imagine this father’s heart at the end of that day?  Can you imagine the tears falling from his eyes as he holds his precious son to keep him from being hurt as he falls in another convulsion?  Can you imagine his sorrow and anguish that even this last hope has been empty and futile?  Can you imagine his anger and resentment at the crowd that stands around, impassively and objectively arguing about whether or not the boy has a demon after all, totally ignorant of the toll this has taken on his whole family’s life?

And then, just as he’s about to pick up his son and take him home, along comes Jesus and Peter and James and John, fresh from the top of the mountain.  Jesus asks, What’s going on?  The father tells him.  Jesus sighs, and commands the demon to come out.  The demon thrashes the boy around some, but comes out as commanded.  Everybody can see that the demon has come out and the boy is well.  The father can take him home!

Can you imagine the father’s heart now breaking not for sorrow, but for joy?  Can you imagine the father’s heart not breaking for emptiness, but exploding because it is full of thanksgiving and hope and praise?  Can you imagine the father leaping and skipping and running home, hand in hand with this healthy son, healthy for the first time in years?  Maybe planning to surprise Mother at the door – maybe planning a big party for all the neighbors later – maybe planning already the outings they’ll go on, the sports they’ll play, the adventures they’ll have together, the fun and the love as father and son from now on.

But – what about the “unbelieving generation” comment of Jesus in verse 19?  What’s that all about?  I suppose it could be a sigh of disgust, maybe, that some people take so long to come to Jesus.  Like they see Him like their last resort rather than their first recourse.

Of course, we pastors know what that’s like, don’t we?  People come to us and say things like, “Pastor, the wife and I have decided to get a divorce.  We’ve signed the papers, and we thought you should know.”  We nod, and inwardly groan and wonder why they didn’t come to us earlier in the process?

But truth be told, I do the same thing with Jesus.  He’s often farther down on my “To Call” list than He ought to be, and often when I do reach out to Him it’s only after I’ve reached out to several others.

And yet that’s not where I’m really headed with this post.  Go back for a moment to the paragraph in italics above.  Whether they call us “Father” or not, we pastors often have the kind of relationship with the people Jesus gives to us that causes our hearts to ache for them.  Whether they are our blood children or adopted children or our spiritual children, haven’t there been times when their lives and their situations pierce your own heart like a sword?  Times when you’ve felt like the Prodigal Father trembling with anticipation that today might be the day the lost son is finally found?  Times when perhaps, as someone’s pastor, you’ve thought “if I could be in that hospital bed / Alzheimer’s unit / jail cell instead of you”?

This story touches me at that place in my heart, and I want nothing more than to bring all these children to Jesus for Him to cast out whatever is possessing them so that we can run and play and celebrate His love forever – and Jesus and me with them.

The Sermon on the Mount

An Indispensable Churches post

The Christian claim is that life is better lived in the church because the church, according to our story, just happens to be true.  The church is the only community formed around the truth, which is Jesus, Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Only on the basis of his story, which reveals to us who we are and what has happened in the world, is true community possible. (page 77)

In a world like ours, it is tempting to seek community, any community, as a good in itself.  . . .  (page 77)

The Sermon [on the Mount, Matthew 5-7] implies that it is as isolated individuals that we lack the ethical and theological resources to be faithful disciples.  The Christian ethical question is not the conventional Enlightenment question, How in the world can ordinary people like us live a heroic life like that?  The question is, What sort of community would be required to support an ethic of nonviolence, marital fidelity, forgiveness, and hope such as the one sketched by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?  (page 80)

– Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens(Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989)

Naether Memorial Chapel; Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

We happened to be reading the “eye for an eye” part of the Sermon on the Mount last Sunday in Bible class, and commenting on how difficult it is for us to live the kind of life Jesus describes in those verses.  But we’re not alone – everyone struggles with the “love your enemies” words of Jesus.  We do the Christian quick-step around them with re-interpretations (“He didn’t really mean love in the same sense that you love . . . “).  We make exceptions (“I can love my enemies in general; but not that one in particular”).  We’re so hopelessly in love with the lex talionis because each of us has so idolized our individual selves that for Jesus to say things like “But I tell you . . . ” drives a knife right through the heart of our self-importance.  And yet we want to call ourselves Christians, too, and claim to follow Jesus.  The rock is firm, the hard place is hard, and we are caught firmly in the middle, unable to escape by ourselves.

Then come Hauerwas and Willimon (above), who tell us that it is precisely because I cannot escape by myself that I need the church, the community of believers, the communio sanctorum.  It is only in that context and in that community that I can be faithful to the words of Jesus.  It is only in the church, surrounded by other believers current and past, that I learn the truth about forgiveness, marital fidelity, and all the other things Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.  We both know we won’t learn any of it in the world.  We both know that not just any community is up to the task, no matter how ethical it tries to be.  Only the church, the body of Christ, is uniquely designed by Jesus Himself to feed and nourish and nurture its members so that together we grow into the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

I need the church that is the body of Christ all over the world – in India, in the USA, in Europe, wherever there is another believer.  I need that believer.  I need the church that is the denomination I belong to, and the denominations I see around me.  I need the church that is the body of Christ assembled in the building in which I preach, as well as those assembled in other similar buildings in our community.  I need the church that is the huge one in the big city, and I need the church that is the tiny one on the ridge overlooking the village of used-to-be.  I need them all – and so do you – because each and every one of them teaches me how to live the “But I tell you . . . ”  I confess that I am a poor, miserable sinner.  I rejoice that Jesus has forgiven my sins!  But I need the Church Indispensable to teach me to be the disciple He calls me to be.

And I think you do to.

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